Magda Donia What might be the value of using a well-known managerial tool in the context of school reform? Magda Donia is seeking to find out with exciting new research focusing on a teacher job redesign program in Brazil. Her study proposes that changing aspects of teachers’ jobs, in the absence of any additional financial expenses, can lead to an improvement in both teacher and student-centered outcomes. The resulting data will help guide an educational transformation in Brazil.

“We’re assessing the value of job enrichment in the test schools for an innovative pilot program,” says Professor Donia, who teaches courses in human resources and organizational behavior at the Telfer School. “Job enrichment has been shown to help motivate employees for better performance and creativity, but most studies so far have looked at individual employees in the private sector in North America and Europe. Our research takes place in a different cultural context, and in a public-sector environment that has significant financial constraints, so it’s a very unique opportunity in terms of measures.”

A school restructuring program that included job redesign was introduced by the Instituto de Co-Responsabilidade pela Educação (ICE), first in 20 schools in the northeastern state of Pernambuco (2004 - 2007) and then in 16 schools in Sao Paulo, the country’s industrial centre (2012). The contribution of ICE in reforming Brazil’s high schools was recently featured in an article in The Economist (2012). Specific changes relating to job enrichment include enabling teachers to use a wider range of skills, having more opportunity to receive feedback, broadening their perceived role in the future success of their students, and increasing their autonomy in organizing and scheduling their work. There is now an opportunity to track the impact of the job enrichment program on positive teacher and student outcomes.

The Pernambuco test schools, located in a remote and less affluent part of Brazil, have already seen some improvements in students’ grades, graduation rates and public university enrollment. Those outcomes are particularly noteworthy in a country where historically, most of the students admitted to public universities, which are the best in the country, are those from families who can afford to send them to private preparatory schools.

Professor Donia and her colleagues will use a longitudinal and cross-sectional study to compare the 15 schools (approx. 4,000 students) in the state of Goiás joining the pilot program in 2013 with matched schools comprising a control group. “On a practical level,” says professor Donia, “the research comes at an important moment in the implementation of the program, providing valuable data to determine the value of expanding it to other public schools facing similar challenges.”

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